Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 5

Students Battle It Out

Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is the fifth and final installment of our interview with Dr. Steinhoff about the Japanese New Left in the 1960s and 1970s.


If we look at where the Weathermen and Red Armies developed from their respective student movements, there are some very clear differences. The Weathermen made a point not to kill anyone after they ended up blowing themselves up, but the Red Army in Japan continued with bombings and other violent actions, no?

Actually, after the Lod incident, Shigenobu said, we aren’t going to kill anybody, and they did not kill anybody else in all their subsequent attacks. She was also deeply distressed because her best friend had already been killed in the United Red Army purge, before the Lod Airport attack. That was the only time the Red Army in Japan killed anybody.

I did a paper with Gilda Zwerman, an American sociologist who studies the “post-New Left” in the U.S. The U.S. also had groups that went underground and were involved throughout the 1970s. Part of it is that it’s not as visible in the United States, because it wasn’t centralized and it wasn’t national. It’s very easy to say, somebody did something stupid over in one place, but not to see it as a part of the same larger movement. We did a paper with Donatella della Porta who has studied the same types of movements in the same time period in Italy and Germany. And we first put all our cases, which included all the radical groups, including the Weathermen, including the Black Panthers, and the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army), Puerto Rican Nationalists from the U.S., the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Red Army Faction in Germany and a couple of other Italian factions. We put all our cases together and we tried to figure out what the processes were. The three of us wrote one paper about going underground and the process of who went and that sort of thing.

Zwerman and I did another one where we talked about other types of things that happened in the ’70s and the ’80s, so there are interesting parallels and when you put a lot of groups together, you can see a lot of common patterns, but there are differences because of the structural differences in the countries and the way the groups were organized. I wouldn’t want to say across the board that the U.S. was milder, but some things were different.

One of the reasons that the Japanese groups did what they did is because guns are so hard to find in Japan, whereas in the U.S., that’s not an issue. Going underground and having a guerilla army with guns — you weren’t about to overthrow the U.S. government that way. There are differences in thinking about what you can do and why. The Black Panthers were walking around the streets with guns quite deliberately in the 1960s.

Continued »

W. David MARX
September 14, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 4

Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is the fourth installment of our interview with Dr. Steinhoff about the Japanese New Left in the 1960s and 1970s.


Japanese Red Army Background: In 1971, Shigenobu Fusako (重信房子) moved to Lebanon to form a Red Army training base under the auspices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). On May 30, 1972, three Japanese members of this Lebanon-based cell departed a plane in Tel Aviv’s Lod airport, retrieved grenades and guns from their baggage, and commenced an attack that ultimately resulted in 24 fatalities and 76 injuries. Later the group around Shigenobu formally took the name Japanese Red Army (JRA) and perpetrated numerous terrorist actions around the world — including the hijacking of a JAL plane over the Netherlands (1973), an attack on a Shell facility in Singapore (1974), the storming of the French Embassy in the Hague (1974), hostage taking in Kuala Lumpur (1975), and a hijacking of JAL plane over India (1977).

How in the world did the Red Army end up in Palestine and supporting the struggle against the Jewish state? At least in the U.S., Israel was not a big target of the student movement in the 1960s.

There is a strain of anti-Jewish sentiment in Japan that is fed by the Far Right, that David Goodman has written about (in the book Jews in the Japanese Mind). He sees the students as being part of that. I don’t really, because theirs was much more political. They make it very clear that they are not anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist. They are opposed to the things that Israel has done against the Palestinian population — invading and taking over Palestinian lands and occupying them very brutally for a long period of time.

Shigenobu Fusako, pre-JRA
Shigenobu Fusako, pre-JRA

Was Shigenobu’s exodus to Lebanon tied into the Yodo hijackers’ travel to North Korea?

Yes, in a sense. I am reading something that Shigenobu Fusako has been writing since she came back. [She was arrested in Osaka in November 2000.] She says quite clearly, the Yodo-go hijacking didn’t work. The hijackers ended up being locked up in a Stalinist country. That didn’t do us much good at all.

The Red Army was starting to lose central direction after the hijacking, so there’s a lot of leadership turnover and internal turmoil because the original leaders were all either in North Korea or in jail. She was delegated to be looking for more international bases. The word is that she or somebody else was sent to the U.S., and they had this wild plan that they were going work with the Americans and surround the Pentagon. And they went there and started talking about this, and people said, you must be nuts. So nothing happened with that.

She thought that rather than going to a country, what they needed to go to do was go to a place where people were actually fighting and somehow get involved and get their training through that. So it wasn’t necessarily a country she was looking for, but it was a movement that was ideologically similar and active.

The PFLP wasn’t that old — it started about the same time [as the Red Army] and they had been thrown out of Jordan. They had just moved to Lebanon, and they had bases in Lebanon and were actively trying to get foreigners to come and volunteer with them.

It wasn’t actually the “Red Army” that went. She’s the only Red Army person that went. But when she was looking around for what to do, there was a group in Kyoto that was composed of little cells. They called themselves the Kyoto Partisans but they operated as loosely-connected, small independent cells. That was in part a response to the way in which the Red Army so over-organized and was such a clear target because they were trying to do guerrilla stuff when they were visible. But it was also a response to the conditions of the time in Japan, when the situation was so repressive that lots of groups decided they could only keep going if they went underground. That small cell structure is a classic organizational pattern for underground groups.

So the Kyoto Partisans had little groups around and they were doing little stuff. Okudaira [Takeshi/Tsuyoshi] — it’s not clear how much there was leadership in these things — but he was a fairly high-level person, and he had established some connection to the PFLP. He had already started learning Arabic. So he was interested in going to Lebanon, and there was some interest in other groups. There were people from Japan who were going to work in the Palestinian refugee camps as volunteers, like doctors and nurses and people with skills — going to volunteer in the camps. It was in the air. People knew about it — that you could go and that you would be making a revolutionary contribution. In that context, Shigenobu hooked up with Okudaira.

Continued »

W. David MARX
September 13, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 3

Yodo-go Hijacking
Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is the third installment of our interview with Dr. Steinhoff about the Japanese New Left in the 1960s and 1970s.


Red Army Background: The “Red Army” (赤軍) usually refers to three related, but distinct Japanese revolutionary leftist organizations. In 1969, radical members of the Japanese student movement formed the Red Army Faction of the Communist League (共産主義者同盟赤軍派) — an underground paramilitary unit aiming to actively foment socialist revolution in Japan. This new group quickly became the target of serious police suppression, but managed to execute numerous robberies and other small-scale attacks. The Red Army Faction reached a new level of infamy, however, after their dramatic hijacking of the JAL flight 351 “Yodo-go” from Tokyo to Fukuoka on March 31, 1970. The nine hijackers forced the plane to fly to North Korea, where they received exile but spent the next decade in re-education camps and out of contact with the rest of the world. See video of the Yodo.

In 1969, the SDS in the U.S. breaks down and the super-radical Weathermen are formed. Same thing happens with the Red Army Faction coming out of Bund. These transformations from student groups to underground terrorist cells seem very parallel. Did the Red Army look at the Weathermen and say, hey, we need to make the same shift?

Actually, the Japanese movement was ahead of the American movement, so the Red Army Faction was certainly not “copying” the Weathermen. But there was a certain amount of mutual awareness and interaction. There were conferences in Japan in 1968 and 1969, and they invited a lot of people from the U.S. — the Black Panthers and SDS, etc. They were very aware of the American movement. Shiomi Takaya (the intellectual leader of the Red Army Faction) himself was meeting with these people, and one of their early actions was timed to coincide with the Chicago Days of Rage. So they saw themselves as part of an international student movement. They also identified with the student movements in Europe at the same time and with revolutionary movements all over the world — the Cuban revolution, etc.

Who was Shiomi Takaya and where did he come from?

The original Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction) was a faction of Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei or Bund. Shiomi Takaya went to Kyōdai (Kyoto University) and was a little bit older, but he was working in the Bund office in Tokyo as a full-time activist during the late ’60s. The movement was hitting a stone wall, the state began cracking down on violent protest in the streets, and the Kansai Bund people wanted to move into an underground army and more violence. So he became the central figure of that group, and he was the wordsmith. He was the guy who would come up with these incomprehensible but charismatic phrases for what they wanted to do. Tamiya was the person who would organize their activities, but Shiomi was the intellectual leader. In the summer of 1969 Bund threw out the Red Army Faction, which had operated as an internal faction for at least half a year before that, and the Red Army became independent at that point.

Shiomi was arrested two weeks before the hijacking of the Yodo-go in March 1970 on an arrest warrant for having planned some earlier actions. By that time, the Red Army was under tremendous pressure and many people were already in hiding. Shiomi had the record for a while for being held incommunicado after his arrest for a year and a half — now that’s nothing, everyone is held incommunicado for a year and a half. But at the time, it was the record. He had a long trial and all these appeals and served his sentence until about 1990.

How many people did the Red Army Faction have at first?

The Red Army had a lot of people until they started doing violent actions and the police started cracking down. In the Fall of ’69, they announced themselves publicly — “We are going to have an underground army, and we are looking for weapons.” They were making “Peace can bombs.” I don’t know if they still have them, but Peace cigarettes used to come in these little blue cans, so you could take the can and load it with pachinko balls and an explosive. They also experimented with pipe bombs. They were making homemade explosives.

Tamiya had devised an elaborate plan. Prime Minister Sato was supposed to travel to the U.S. to discuss Japan’s cooperation in the Vietnam War. This was to be a big, high-profile protest event with street demonstrations. But Sekigun had this elaborate plot that they were going to surround the Prime Minister’s residence the day before and lock him up so he couldn’t go. They couldn’t stop him forever, but they could obstruct his trip. That was going to be their sensational thing.

To prepare for it, they had gone to a mountain area fairly near Tokyo called Daibosatsu Tōge (大菩薩峠). They had rented rooms in an inn, and they were doing training on how to throw pipe bombs so they wouldn’t blow up in your face. So they were doing that, but they were so semi-open about everything they were doing and a lot of the people were already being followed on a 24-hour basis. So the police knew they were there. They sneaked up on them, and early in the morning when they were all still asleep, they surrounded the place and arrested 53 people. That was a big chunk of the membership.

Continued »

W. David MARX
September 12, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 2

1960 Ampo Demonstrations

Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is the second installment of our interview with Dr. Steinhoff about the Japanese New Left in the 1960s and 1970s.


Let’s begin with the 1960 demonstrations against the revision of the Ampo (Japanese shorthand for Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan). Did these protests enjoy broad public support?

Yes, the 1960 Ampo protests had very wide support. A lot of it was mobilized by the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. Those parties also had the main labor federations, which could mobilize huge numbers of people. There were also citizens groups created at the time. The student movement had initially been pretty much organized by the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) right after the war, but then expanded. But in the late ’50s, a lot of the student leaders were unhappy with what was happening with party policy, and they didn’t like being dictated to and treated like a subordinate part of the working class instead of being something on their own. A big group of those leaders broke with the Communist Party in 1958. Others were thrown out when they went with the leaders who left the party. They were the beginning of Japan’s New Left.

So the New Left, in Japan, means quite explicitly, “not affiliated with the Communist Party.” Marxist, but not JCP.

And the people who founded it had been key top leaders of Zengakuren (全学連, All-Japan Federation of Students’ Self-Governing Associations), particularly around Tōdai (Tokyo University).

At that time, was Zengakuren controlled by the Japanese Communist Party?

Not exactly, and to characterize it that way to an English-speaking audience invites misconceptions. Zengakuren was a national federation of student government organizations all over Japan. There were local student government organizations or jichikai (自治会) on every campus, and students were elected to leadership positions in student government for each university faculty or gakubu (学部). These student organizations ran the co-op, and they got money from student fees. And they would control the student government because they were elected to do so.

Zengakuren had a democratic centralist kind of structure, where they had campus units that were just students, but technically everyone at some level is a member. Then there is an organizational structure for the city-wide federation and then for the regional federation, and then the national one. Each level would elect the next level up — that is what democratic centralism means. The Communist Party controlled the top — the organization leadership — but not necessarily the individual students. It’s not to say that every student in Japan was a Communist, but the movement itself at the national level was under clear control. So Zengakuren could mobilize people for different things. That was the case through the 1950s.

Then in the late ’50s, that’s when these people — who were national leaders of Zengakuren, but most of them also were from the Tōdai cell that controlled the Tōdai student government organization — broke with the party. They walked out and formed their own organization — Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei (共産主義者同盟, Communist League). They kept the word kyōsanshugi (共産主義, communism) but not the kyōsanto (共産党) of the Communist Party. They organized themselves as another party. They were nicknamed Bund (ブント).

Were they aligned with the left-wing of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) instead of the JCP?

No. It is a mistake to think of this in terms of national political parties, as these were groups of students operating independently. They were close to the Socialist Party in their ideas, but at that point, the Socialist Party was not that much involved in the student movement. Later in the mid-to-late ’60s, they had a student branch — one part of which became part of the New Left.

Then there was another organization, which was minimal in the late ’50s — the Trotskyite League (日本トロツキスト連盟). It had been just a little study group, but right at that point, it also began to grow. It became another part of the New Left, and because it’s Trotskyite, it was not connected to the Communist Party. That became Kakumeiteki Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei (革命的共産主義者同盟, Revolutionary Marxist League), and then that split in Kakumaru-ha (革マル派) and Chūkaku-ha (中核派). And also, Daiyon-Intā (Fourth International), which is affiliated with the Trotskyite Fourth International organization.

Ideologically-speaking, what were these parties’ relative positions?

These people are all left of the Communist Party.

From ’59 to ’61, there was a fair amount of movement between Chūkaku and Bund, so if you trace individual histories, they are entangled. They’re all much more militant than the JCP, but they’re basically student organizations and they’re seeing students as the vanguard of the proletariat. But a lot of it follows the Trotskyite idea of simultaneous world revolution. They’re all anti-Stalinist. The individual differences between the groups are too arcane to be described here.

Continued »

W. David MARX
September 11, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Interview: Dr. Patricia Steinhoff 1

Okamoto Kozo on Trial

Dr. Patricia Steinhoff is Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Ever since jetting to Israel in 1972 to interview Okamoto Kozo — the only surviving attacker of the Lod Airport terrorist incident — Dr. Steinhoff has been on a 35-year journey to chronicle the history and social organization of post-war Japanese Marxist radicals, from their earnest beginnings in the mass protests against the Ampo treaty in the late 1950s to their self-destruction and descent into international terrorism in the early 1970s. Although the Extreme Left has ceased to be a significant political force in Japan, the members’ past actions continue to haunt the present. Police boxes still plaster up wanted posters for fugitive Marxists, Japanese Red Army soldiers once active in the Middle East spend their days navigating through the Japanese courts, and ex-Red Army Faction plane hijackers of the Yodo-go incident remain a sore point in Japan-North Korea relations.

In this five-part interview, we ask Dr. Steinhoff to explain the formation of the student movement in Japan, its radical re-organization into the infamous “Red Armies,” and the general social impact of the New Left upon contemporary Japanese society.


How did you end up researching Japanese student leftism and the Red Army saga?

I was a Japanese specialist before I was a sociologist. I have an undergraduate degree in Japanese language and literature. I was at the University of Michigan, with the Michigan Daily, when it was a center of student protest. My closest associates were very much in the center of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and activism in the early ’60s. So I was very close to that kind of activism, but I was not an activist myself.

When I went to Harvard and wanted to do a dissertation, Robert Lifton had just written a piece about Japanese student radicals — the ’60 Ampo [Japan-U.S. Joint Security Treaty] generation. I had read that, and in it he talked about the students making a tenkō (転向) which he meant as, they went from one organization to another, one ideological position to another. I’m not sure how accurate that description is for the students of that period. In any case, the word tenkō came up.

I was working at that time under Robert Bellah. He asked me what I wanted to do for my dissertation, and I said two things. One was Japanese politeness levels, which I had done some work on and had found sociologically interesting. The other was tenkō. And he knew Lifton and knew the Lifton piece, and he immediately said, “Tenkō! That’s a great topic. But don’t do the post-war, you need to do the real tenkō of the 1920s and 1930s.”

That’s what I did my dissertation on. My initial research in Japan was pre-war, but it was on the most radical elements in pre-war Japan — the members of the Japan Communist Party and the support organizations around them. And it ended up being a dissertation about how they confronted the state and how they were suppressed in their prison situation. The existing Japanese work at that time was all being done as intellectual history (思想史). I’m a sociologist and have a pretty low tolerance for intellectual history (laughs), so my approach was to look at the social context in which this was happening. I looked at the documents — in that period in the ’60s, a lot of classified material from pre-war Japan had come out and it was on the used book market and people were collecting it. There were pre-war, government documents about tenkō and how it had been managed.

When you say “tenkō” in this context, do you mean renunciation of Marxist beliefs?

The pre-war situation was that they arrested a lot of people under the Peace Preservation Law, that it’s against the law to carry out actions that have the purpose of changing the kokutai (國體, national polity) or the economic structure. So the logic is that it’s an action, but the crime really depends on what your beliefs are. What happened in this situation was, the criminal justice system was not content with prosecuting people for actions: they wanted them to give up the beliefs. Otherwise the crime is continuing, right? So tenkō became about pressure to give up your ideas.

A whole system was developed for getting people to make a tenkō and then using the confession/tenkō statements made by leaders to get other people to do it. It became a kind of mass movement. In the ’30s, it spread out to many other groups that had been caught under the Peace Preservation Law, well beyond the Communist Party. And also, it put pressure on many people long before they were ever arrested. When the Konoe government created the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (大政翼賛会) in 1940, they put pressure on all the mass organizations to become part of it, under state control. In that process, they pressured organizations to make an organizational statement that was basically a loyalty oath or a tenkō

I was interested in the whole process of tenkō, the logic of it, how the prosecutors tried to make it happen, and how people responded to it. So I tried to understand how people dealt with that pressure.

The research was actually being done in Tokyo in 1966 up to the beginning of 1968. Things were heating up in the student movement but I had my nose in the books and was not paying attention to what was going on around me.

So after the dissertation I turned to what I originally wanted to do which was look at post-war tenkō. I wanted to find a post-war situation that had some of the same elements, and my idea was the post-war constitution gave people a lot more protection in the legal system, and the post-war education system was trying to produce stronger individuals. So a lot of the thrust of the occupation should have created different social conditions in which people could resist that type of pressure if it fell on them again. I was looking around for a similar post-war situation in which people because of ideological commitment got themselves in a direct confrontation with the state and were under pressure to stop doing what they were doing.

So I was looking around, and I was aware that another social movement was going on, but I didn’t know what was happening in much detail.

Then in 1972, the Red Army people who were in the Middle East carried out the airport attack in Israel.

Continued »

W. David MARX
September 9, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.